Unlike some other people I can mention, Lyfe Jennings has actually done time in prison. I point that out not to add fuel to the gossip fire, but because those hard times have embedded Lyfe’s voice with a raspy weariness built to convey emotion. Thankfully on his third album, the aptly named Lyfe Change, the man with the simultaneously smooth and gritty voice has crafted a musical work worthy of his always high potential. It’s too early to call Change one of the best r&b albums of the year, but if it’s not, than 2008 …
DJBooth Album Review
The hardest thing about changing is admitting the mistakes of your past, something Lyfe knows only too well (even if he still hasn’t learned to let the music speak for itself, without an unnecessary intro skit). On Never Never Land he leaves behind the flash of the single life for the steady love of a good woman and his kids. Some men hang onto their youthful ways ridiculously long, not Lyfe. On Never Never Land he shows that real men aren’t afraid of love, especially when they make it sound so smooth. But while his priorities may have changed, he’s never let money be the root of that change, a point he drives home on Brand New. Brand New is probably the most swaggering song on the album, which says something about how swagger-free Lyfe Change is, even with the inclusion of a T.I. verse. While Lyfe makes a decent musical pairing with T.I., he really finds a musical partner in Wyclef. Together the pair make Wild, Wild, Wild a must-hear track, a label that could be applied to several tracks on Lyfe Change. In other words, this is a very good album.
The more things change the more they stay the same, and Lyfe Change bravely moves into the future by reviving the spirit of r&b’s past. On Midnight Train, Jennings put a new spin on the often-covered classic, adding an acoustic guitar melody and a live-band sound to his repertoire. Just about anyone can sound good with a computer bank of production tools behind them (I’m looking at you Britney), but Lyfe shows he can lay down compelling vocals with only minimal assistance. And it’s only right that I also mention Old School, a riding track as delicious as homemade soul food (Lyfe’s analogy, not mine), plus the always fresh Snoop Dogg stops by for some guest verse dessert. What’s even more old school is Lyfe’s lyrics about working just to pay the water bill, a once common theme of financial struggle in black music that’s been almost completely flipped by today’s I Get Money artists. Good music doesn’t just describe your life, it gives you the power to change it, and that’s exactly what makes this album remarkable. Basically it’s the exact opposite of All I Feel.
There’s only one thing standing between Lyfe Change and classic album status – the lack of a “lock the doors and warn the neighbors because it’s about to go down” love-makin’ jam. Every great album has one, Lyfe Change doesn’t. On a purely musical level, It’s Real comes the closest to Let’s Get It On status. The pounding bass line bounces like lovers hips between the sheets and Lyfe’s raspy whisper of a voice is the perfect mood setter, but lyrically the song is more safe-sex cautionary tale (“I gotta wrap it up, I gotta protect us”) than the catalyst for some broken mattresses. Let me make this clear – I’m not criticizing It’s Real at all. It’s a great song with a crucial message, I just wish It’s Real wasn’t the only sexually-charged jam on the album. Though maybe that says more about my own proclivities than Lyfe Jennings.
Unfortunately Lyfe’s commitment to musical complexity, to personal and artistic change, means this album isn’t likely to get the financial and critical credit it deserves. Well not on my page. On my page we give respect where respect is due, and at the very least Lyfe deserves some serious respect from music lovers everywhere. Which leads to this question; is this album just a single bright light in a sea of recycled r&b darkness, or the beginning of a movement? Well, to quote the immortal Sam Cooke, I believe a change is gonna come, even if it has to start here, now, with us.
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 04/29/08
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First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Ghetto Mindstate (Can't Get Away) ft. Lyfe Jennings" (2006)
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